Sean Penn has filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Empire creator Lee Daniels. The complaint, filed Tuesday (Sept. 22) in New York Supreme Court, asserts that in Daniels' recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Penn was falsely accused of hitting women by being likened to Empire star Terrence Howard.
"[Terrence] ain't done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he's some f---in' demon," Daniels told THR in reference to to Howard's recent legal troubles. "That's a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America."
Now, Penn has retained former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart, who declined to comment but referred THR to the first paragraph of the complaint, which states, "As a result of Penn's status as a public figure, he has for years been the subject of scandalous, scurrilous, and baseless attacks. But Penn, like any citizen, has a right to defend himself and will no longer tolerate the reckless and malicious behavior of others, who seek to aggrandize themselves or their projects at his expense. Accordingly, and because of Daniels' defamatory statements, Penn brings this action for monetary relief, and to deter Daniels and others from their defamatory actions."
In his complaint (read here in full), Penn nods to reports that Howard has publicly admitted to physically abusing women and says that Daniels' statements are "egregious" on several levels, including that Daniels, who co-created the Fox hit series Empire and scored an Oscar nomination for directing Precious, appears to acknowledge Howard's guilt and "also seems to condone Howard's reported misconduct."
Penn thinks it's improper that Daniels came to Howard's defense as "apparently part of a misguided campaign to profit and further bolster and brand his show Empire (on the eve of the Emmy Awards, when the statements were made)."
"Third, and most problematic," continues the lawsuit, which mentions Penn's accolades including Oscar wins for Milk and Mystic River and charitable endeavors, "Daniels falsely equates Penn with Howard, even though, while he has certainly had several brushes with the law, Penn (unlike Howard) has never been arrested, much less convicted, for domestic violence, as his ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest."
We've reached out to Daniels' camp and will update with any statement as soon as it comes.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.